Thursday, October 16, 2008
EVENT: My mother is Filipina, from the Visayan Islands. She immigrated to the United States when she was 26 years old. Even though she had a bachelor’s degree in journalism from a Filipino university, her first job was in a Farmer John’s meat locker, packaging frozen meat on a conveyor belt along side other immigrants. Soon after, she met my father, a white middle class male who gave her the impression that he could offer her financial and emotional security and the “American Dream.”
When I was five, my father decided that we were going to be farmers and moved us from the city to a small town outside of Valencia, California. This was a blue collar little town with only white residents and a few Mexican immigrants that labored on the farms. I did not realize then that I was the only Filipino child in the town. At that time in my life, I had no realization of race or that I was different from everyone else in the town.
When I was eight years old, I came upon a classmate of mine torturing a spider. I regarded myself even then as a defender of the weak and pushed the boy, telling him to leave the spider alone. He got upset and said to me, “Why don’t you go back to your own country!”
I had no idea what he was talking about. I was born in Los Angeles. For some reason his statement bothered me more than the usual child insults like stupid or dork. When I came home from school, I asked my mother what he meant. She told me not to pay attention to the boy. That he was a “white trash racist” with ignorant, red neck parents. This was the first time I had heard the word “racist” and the first time I racially self identified as a non-white, even though my father is white. Soon my parents divorced and I lived only with my mom, which re-enforced my identification as Filipino and not white.
CONCEPT: In the article, Constructing Race, Creating White Privilege, by Pem Davidson Buck, the issue of racial ideology to create a ruling and ruled class is discussed. Buck writes that. “The elite had to ‘teach whites the value of whiteness’ in order to divide and rule their labor force.”(p32)
This lesson in white superiority historically taught to European immigrants in the United States was crucial in satiating the growing dissatisfaction with living conditions of poor whites. The elite pushed a version of whiteness that came with a “psychological wage.” This was of sorts a reward for being white, without the elite having to share any of their own material resources with the poor immigrants. This psychological wage was in fact, an expression of “superiority over non-whites and defining them, rather than the capitalists, as the enemy.”(p35) The definition of freedom changed, not only giving status to the rich, but creating and giving status to a new type of “white folk”, the working, middle class.
“Freedom was equated with the right to own and sell your own labor, as opposed to slavery, which allowed neither right. Independence was now defined not only by property ownership but also by possession of skill and tools that allowed wage-earning men to acquire status as a head of household controlling dependents.”(p36)
ANALYSIS: I believe that this historical education of white privilege is still taught today and most definitely came into play during my childhood interaction with the spider-killing boy. At eight years old, he was already familiar with the “psychological wage” and taught by his working class parents that indeed he was more deserving of living here than I was simply because of his paler skin. Of course, this must have come from a deep white superiority sentiment that must have been often expressed by his parents and their peers as well as reinforced on television, the radio, in church and even in my elementary school. At the same time, minorities are taught to accept this racist ideology as well, as my mother never thought to go to the school administration and complain.
Even though both of us as children were living in the same, small town and attended the same school, it is obvious that our individual education was quite different and adhered to the institutional and social promotion of white superiority and racist attitudes in this society.
note: all page number refrences are from the book, Race, Class, And Gender In The United States, by Paula S. Rothenberg